Introducing OPEN MIC contributor Francisco X. Stork

YA Author Francisco X. Stork
I'm delighted to continue to showcase the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (published by Candlewick Press). Today I'm featuring the brilliant Francisco X. Stork, author of the piece called "Brotherly Love," a fictional look at the limits of traditional Latino masculinity.

VOYA had this to say about our book and, more specifically, about Francisco's piece:
"... Perkins organizes the stories wisely in this collection that hopes to put a humorous spin on a topical, deeply uncomfortable subject: Race. ... In Francisco X. Stork's "Brotherly Love," siblings Luis and Rosalinda have a revealing conversation about their brother Bernie. These tales in particular dance between humor and heartache, ending on notes of triumph as we look toward a hopeful future. ..."
Here are the opening paragraphs from his short story in OPEN MIC, which tell so much about the close bonds Luis has with his siblings and his relationship with their father:
The day I talked to my sister started out as an ordinary Sunday. Papá‎ began yellign at us to get ready two hours before we needed to leave for church. I know Rosalinda would be staying home because I had heard her battle with Papá‎ earlier that morning. Once a month, Papá‎ reluctantly agreed to let Rosalinda stay home on account of "problemas de mujer."
"Luis, let's go!" I heard Papá‎ yell all the way from his room. I covered my face with my pillow.
"You all right?" Bernie was standing over my bed. He had a worried look on his face. He and I had shared a room since forever. "You haven't been yourself lately. Is everything okay?"
Francisco's award-winning books include The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, Marcelo in the Real World, Behind the Eyes, Way of the Jaguar, and Irises. He works in Boston as a lawyer for a state agency that develops affordable housing. Francisco was born in Monterrey, Mexico, to Ruth Arguelles, a single mother from a middle-class family in Tampico, a city on the Gulf of Mexico. Find out more about this critically-acclaimed author and his work here.

Wisconsin, Here I Come

On Tuesday, April 8, I'm honored to offer the keynote at this year's conference on multicultural literature at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. Come and join us if you're nearby.

Tuesday April 8, 2014
- at -
the Collaborative Learning Studio,
UW-La Crosse Murphy Library, second floor.
- Presentations at -
12:30 - 2:00 pm and 4:00 - 5:30 pm
The program is free of charge, and participants may attend either of two presentations.

KQED Hosts a Panel on Children's Literature and People of Color

On Monday, I was honored to be part of a group invited by KQED Forum to speak on the radio about the Cooperative Children's Book Center's (CCBC) 2013 findings on diversity in children's literature. I joined host Mina Kim, Nina Lindsay, children's librarian at Oakland Public Library, and illustrator LeUyen Pham in the studio. K.T. Horning of the CCBC provided a pre-recorded introduction, and Christopher Myers, whose recent New York Times article, "The Apartheid of Children's Literature," precipitated the public interest, joined us live from Brooklyn.

Let me offer some thoughts on live radio. First, it moves fastthe hour barreled by. Second, a good host must be excellent at multi-tasking; it was fascinating to watch Mina's brain and body move in marvelous synchronicity as she steered the conversation. Three, you can't edit your words.

I said things with which I generally agree but left wishing I could have tweaked a sentence or two. For example, I wish I could clarify that I encourage authors to hold back from writing main characters from historically marginalized communities if we didn't grow up in those communities. And that I invite us to hold back only to ask tough, self-reflective questions about the reasons to write that story—as all powerful storytellers must when writing about less powerful children—but that I see no hard and fast rule about who can write for whom.

Afterwards, to celebrate that it was all done, LeUyen and I partied with Big Bird, and I schmoozed with the aristocrats of Downton Abbey.

Here's the show, or you may listen below if you'd like.

Introducing OPEN MIC Contributor Debbie Rigaud

Debbie Rigaud, as pictured in Redbook Magazine
I'm delighted to showcase the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (published by Candlewick Press). Today I'm featuring the winner of an open call for contributors, where we sought entries far and wide for the anthology. Debbie Rigaud's "Voilà" won that contest. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer had this to say about our book and, more specifically, about Debbie's piece:
"... Open Mic is not a collection of spoken-word poetry, as you might expect, but it is every bit as spirited as a live performance. Ten YA authors contributed fiction and nonfiction pieces that depict slices of life as a racial minority in America, and their stories are funny, touching, and inventive by turns ... 'Voilà,' Debbie Rigaud's short story about a Haitian American girl taking her grandmother to the "ghetto doctor" (and the tiresome white teenagers who are there as volunteers) is rendered in beautiful language and tender sentiment..."
Here are the opening paragraphs from her short story in OPEN MIC, which make us fall in love with both Ma Tante and the main character:
...When I was little, my great-aunt Ma Tante used to feed me breakfast. That was when she had a straight back—so long ago, I wasn't wearing glasses yet, if you can imagine. I must have been about three. My parents were at work, my big sister at school, so it was just Ma Tante and me. 
As she dipped my bread in coffee, I got distracted by tiny particles floating in the beam of light entering the window above the kitchen sink. Ma Tante, ever vigilant of my feelings, asked what I was staring at. The peanut-butter-lathered bread I had been chewing stalled in the crook of my cheek. I pointed to the snowfall of particles. It seemed like the most magical thing I'd ever seen. 
Ma Tante smiled. "Magical, non?" she asked, echoing my thoughts. "Things are always floating around us. But just like that sunbeam, ti takes the light in our hearts to see magic that is invisible to most people." 
From then on, wherever I went, I searched for magic around me...

Debbie's books include Perfect Shot and Hallway Diaries, and she has written for Entertainment Weekly, Seventeen, Vibe, Cosmo Girl!, Essence, and other magazines. She lives and writes in Bermuda. Find out more about Debbie and her work here.

KQED Panel on People of Color in Children's Literature

Excited to be a part of this program tomorrow morning on public radio in the Bay Area. Tune in via the web if you're not local—East Coast time 1 o'clock in the afternoon.

People of Color Underrepresented
in Children's Books

Mon, Mar 24, 2014 -- 10:00 AM

Getty Images
Ethnic diversity is on the rise in the U.S. So why are children's books still so white? Only about 6 percent of kids' books published in 2013 feature characters that are African-American, Latino, Asian or Native American. We take up the discussion with authors, illustrators and librarians. Does the ethnicity of characters in children's books matter to you?
Host: Mina Kim
  • Kathleen Horning, director of the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's School of Education
  • LeUyen Pham, illustrator of children's books including "Grace for President," "Freckleface Strawberry" and "Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters"
  • Mitali Perkins, children's book author of "Rickshaw Girl," "Monsoon Summer" and "The Not-So-Star-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen"
  • Nina Lindsay, supervising librarian for children's services at the Oakland Public Library, former judge on the Newbery Award selection committee and co-author of the mock Newbery Award blog, "Heavy Medal"

Introducing OPEN MIC Contributor Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

I'm proud to showcase the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (an anthology published by Candlewick Press). Today's spotlight is on writer Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (sometimes known as Gbemi.) Publishers Weekly had this to say about our book and, more specifically, about Gbemi's contribution:
"... Ten writers and artists, including Varian Johnson, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Francisco X. Stork, offer brief works of fiction and nonfiction “about the between-cultures life.” As Perkins notes, “Humor has the power to break down barriers and draw us together across borders,” and the stories within bear that out... Most offer a subtler, uncomfortable brand of situational humor: Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich calls her high school 'an oasis of suburban racial integration'; when the drama club performed The Crucible, 'the drama coach was sensitive enough to ask the black members of the troupe if we’d be uncomfortable playing the role of slave Tituba.' ..."
Here are the opening lines from "Confessions of a Black Geek," her memoir in OPEN MIC.

... In high school, my friends and I owned two words—we were Black, and we were geeks. We had the soundtrack to prove the first: classic Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin renditions of "Young, Gifted, and Black." That song was as much a part of my regular diet as the lumpy and not-sweet-enough porridge I had for breakfast many mornings. My mom was an Excellence for Black Children mother, which meant that she battled for Parent-of-a-High-Achiever supremacy at monthly meetings and was quick to whip out the dashiki and boom box so that I could dance interpretively alongside my equally gifted and well-mothered friends at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfasts ...

Don't you want to keep reading? Find out more about Gbemi's award-winning novel 8th Grade Superzero, which was named a Notable Children’s Book for a Global Society and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. You may also eavesdrop on a chat between the two of us here on the Fire Escape. "I was the new kid at school many times over, in more than one country," says Gbemi. "I now live with my family in Brooklyn, where I write, make things, and need more sleep."

Dimming the Lights ... For a Bit

I'm taking a bit of a break from social media for the purposes of soul care, but I'll return in a few weeks. In the meantime, I'll still be popping out to the Fire Escape every now and then. Thanks, friends.

Introducing OPEN MIC Contributor Naomi Shihab Nye

I'm proud to showcase the nine authors who collaborated with me on OPEN MIC: RIFFS ON LIFE BETWEEN CULTURES IN TEN VOICES (an anthology published by Candlewick Press). The Horn Book had this to say about our book:
"... In her preface to this nicely compact collection, Perkins suggests that humor can help smooth the way in discussions about race — if it’s used carefully, laughing with, not at ... Naomi Shihab Nye offers an eloquent poem about her Arab American dad, whose open friendliness made him 'Facebook before it existed.' ..."
It is always a delight to share that the brilliant, award-winning poet Naomi Shihab Nye is a contributor. Here are a few lines from "Lexicon," an original OPEN MIC poem, that illustrate her ability to "combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight," as the poet William Stafford once said:

... Remembering my father's daily sweetness,
the way some people make you better
just by stepping into a room.
He loved the freshness of anything—
crisp cucumbers, the swell of a new day.
The way skin feels after being washed.
I'm happy to see you!
The day just got happier ...

Naomi's award-winning books for children include Habibi, Sitti's Secrets, 19 Varieties of Gazelle, and the forthcoming The Turtle of Oman (HarperCollins, August 2014). I can't wait to read this newest novel.

Naomi's father was a Palestinian refugee, and she grew up in Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas, where she still lives and works. "Writing is the great friend that never moves away," she says. Find out more about Naomi and her work at the Steven Barclay Agency.